The vast new exhibition of celebrated artist David Hockney (which starts today at London’s Royal Academy) is devoted to his beloved Yorkshire Wold, with its colourful woodlands and richly patterned cornfields shown over the four seasons, and is set to redefine Britain’s landscape in the same way that he redefined Los Angeles with his 1970s paintings of pools, palm trees and handsome young men.
Perfectly timed is the BFI’s restored version of Jack Hazan’s 1974 arthouse homage to Hockney’s vision, A Bigger Splash (named after the famous 1967 painting of the same name). This documentary-cum-art school experimental ode is a very personal film, with Hazan (who would go on to make the 1980’s documentary Rude Boy with The Clash) gaining intimate access to the artist and his entourage, including designers Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark, at a time when Hockney was at his height.
While the film does ramble on a bit as Hockney muses over breaking up with artist Peter Schlesinger (who is filmed, but never speaks), it really excels at recreating some of Hockney’s most famous paintings like Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy – in which Ossie Clark takes his cat to view the work at the Tate Gallery. But my favourite scene is a recreation of the painting below (the name of which escapes me) which comes off like a surreal dreamlike fantasy (and the Blu-ray transfer makes it even more sublime).
But it’s Hockney’s LA paintings that take centre stage with Hazan’s camera lingering over a group of young men with foppish good-looks frolicking poolside. If the sight of naked men doesn’t float your boat, then beware as the film is quite explicit with its full frontal nudity – even Hockney bares all in one scene. However, if you’re interests rise above the navel, and you want to time-travel back to an era when the bright young things of the London art scene were at their peak, then this is a totally mesmerising nostalgia piece.
A Bigger Splash is released on 30 January in a Dual Format Edition through the BFI
• David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture